Earlier this year, Unlimited and British Council came together to launch a micro awards scheme for disabled artists looking to reimagine international ways of working. The partnership supported pairings of artists and collectives to work collaboratively online. Chris Tally Evans reports back on his intercontinental lessons…
The British Council and Unlimited Micro Award enabled me to develop an artistic connection with dancers and filmmakers in Brazil working with inclusive dance company Dança sem Fronteiras. We quickly decided between ourselves over Zoom that we didn’t want to sit around talking about what we could do in the post-pandemic future but to get on with working creatively together from the get-go. As we worked, we discovered the limits of our creativity during the pandemic and the limitlessness of our imagination for creativity post-pandemic.
The micro works were created during and in the space between our regular Thursday afternoon Zoom sessions where I felt I went to São Paulo each week and where, and from some of the comments from the dancers in their contributions to this report, the Brazilians felt they came to rural Wales.
We started by sharing information in a variety of ways: stories, poems, videos of where we live and the sounds of our environments. This formed a basis of inspiration for creating new work. We were mostly constrained by lockdown, working in isolation in our own homes, but Dança sem Fronteiras did manage to break out a few times and dance in locations in São Paulo or ‘the concrete Amazon’ as they affectionately call their city. They were still not allowed to touch one another or attract a crowd. Quite a challenge! We then took this one stage further and created work simultaneously.
The Thursday evening sessions were recorded so that work created during the ‘Jams’ as they became known, could be built upon for more crafted work in the short films we then created, and which are posted on our social media feeds and on Instagram and YouTube.
Our group is a truly diverse mix of people. It is also worth noting that in addition to our various identities there are young members amongst the company (Gabriel and Gus are the youngest at 24) and I am the eldest at 59, so this is also a cross-generational project.
As part of her additional work, director Fernanda Amaral has been sharing our videos, stories, music, and poetry in schools in São Paulo. This has generated a huge amount of interest and excitement and is a powerful tool for changing attitudes towards disabled people in what can be a conservative and traditional culture. This is also something we would like to build on for the future.
We have developed an affectionate and enabling method of working which we very much intend to continue into the future. The Brazilian dancers imagine a time in the future when they can travel to Wales and perhaps even further afield throughout Britain. They are particularly interested in the ancient sites we have here and making connections to ancestors through landscape and stone. I imagine a time in the future when I can accept the Brazilians’ warm offer to go to São Paulo to meet with them in person, create work that can also be experienced live and deepen our creative and emotional connections.
The films aim to transcend borders and reduce barriers to viewers’ listening or watching pleasure. The use of our mother tongues – English, Brazilian Portuguese, and Welsh – in addition to the Brazilian sign language system Libra, gave us the freedom to add speech and sing songs in a way that has liberated me from my predominantly text-based work in the past.
The joy that we have felt as a group is, I sincerely hope, reflected in these films. I found the energy, warmth, and enthusiasm of Dança sem Fronteiras hugely inspiring and this connection is one I would dearly love to see grow and flourish.
I was wandering aimlessly around the house wondering how to meet Fernanda and Dança Sem Fronteiras’ latest Jam challenge. Circular music, high and low sounds, discordant sounds, melodic sounds, resolving sounds. I’d been playing the guitar and singing for weeks, and new ideas were thin on the ground. But in the dusty corners of my 400-year-old cottage I found them. Many hadn’t been touched for years. The Mid-Wales hippy shop rainstick. Goff, the poet’s, frog present. Caroline’s old melodica. The ambient musical box. Bells from fathers’ schoolyards and mothers’ deathbeds. The ceramic bird call from Rhodes. The dhorgi from Pakistan. The spaghetti western whistle from who knows where and my lovely mandola, untouched since before the pandemic.
I surrounded myself with them in the living room and recorded it all live in one take (no retakes!) on my iPhone. No sound proofing. No effects. Minimal editing. The result is Sounds From Dusty Corners, the musical equivalent of a collage made out of left-over food from the larder. Rough as a tabby cat’s tongue but in this world of overproduction, digital synthesis, and robotic assistance, it’s nice to know you can find honest sounds in dusty corners.
The films in the order they were created:
Thoughts from Dança Sem Fronteiras collaborators
‘This project lighted a flame in all the participants to want more and to look for future ways to keep dance and creating in an international collaboration. All dancers are hoping that this work could be a beginning of a longer collaboration that could strengthen links between UK artists and Brazilian practitioners, as well as a way to bring visibility to disabled professional artists of both countries. ‘ — Fernanda Amaral, Director and dancer
‘This project even by carried out through virtual encounters, the images that were created expand our senses beyond the visual sense, connecting us with the perception of the here and now. […] This project was a deepening of the body-space-time relationships, enabling us also to deeper connections that go beyond the superficiality that the isolated view of other senses may have.’ — Gabriel Domingues, Dancer and dance assistant
“The project showed that it was possible to connect physically distant to people, and that we could see the plurality of each one, with their cultures and artistic forms by connecting on the internet to create a powerful artistic exchange. Resulting in a strong stimulus to want to expand more and more the connections that we have achieved.” — Ana Mesquita, Dancer